Race Track or Tourist Magnet ? The North Coast 500. Any thoughts?

I write this as I head South to assist Yvette with her #RideforReuben bike ride from Oxford to John O’ Groats. We will be following B class roads and taking hopefully a sedate route and a hard 750 miles journey for Charity. It made me thing about other popular routes like the North Coast 500.

A few weeks ago I was up in Assynt visiting a War Grave high in the mountains with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I drove up after dinner to enjoy the great views of the far North. In Ullapool there were so many classic cars about and the roads were very busy but it was lovely weather and May in Scotland is a magic time. I would imagine that the North Coast 500 has enticed many?  I never want to be elitist as this country is for all to enjoy but how many jobs has this North Coast 500 has made and the money made for the local economies would be an interesting debate?At times on my way further North to Inchnadampth I was overtaken by several boy races in their posh cars and pulled in to let them through. Someone is making a lot of money out of this route?  On the way back home next day there were several convoys again this time taking it easy and enjoying the drive but convoys of 12 cars is pretty daft on these roads in my opions. I been up in the North West for over 40 years in all seasons and as part of a RAF Mountain Rescue and we had a convoy of 6 trucks training in the area. I understand the problems of driving these roads and how hard this must be for the locals going about their business and normal day lives. A lot of the road is single track and blind bends with the odd sheep or deer about and great care must be taken.


The sign at the foot of Bealach na Bà reads “not advised for learner drivers”, but that advice could easily apply to the majority of roads that you’ll encounter along the NC500.

Narrow, single track country roads are all that you’ll encounter for around 200 miles across various sections of the route. Blind corners and summits, hairpin bends and vertiginous edges are commonplace. Throw in that sheep and lambs are often mooching at the side or in the middle of the road, the possibility of a deer suddenly leaping in front of you and, of course, increased traffic given the route’s upsurge in popularity, and it’s certainly a drive unlike any other.

Some will love the driving experience offered (a big reason why it’s become a huge bucket-list item for sports car and Top Gear types), whilst others may spend hours gripping the wheel in fear. Andrew, despite his initial trepidation and frequent failure to make it out of third gear, loved taking on the country roads and, for both of us, simply navigating more than five hundred miles across the Highlands was memorable in and of itself.

However, the inexperienced (and those not used to driving on the left) should approach this route with caution and the correct mindset, and all drivers (even Clarkson types) need to note that driver etiquette and road awareness is hugely important when driving the NC500.

On the single track lanes, there are plenty passing places, but you need to be aware of these and embrace them, not view it as a game of ‘who’s going to stop first’. Acknowledge drivers who have stopped to let you pass with a wave and keep a sensible speed at all times – these are not roads for you to try and drive like an idiot and it is most certainly not a race track.

Lastly, aside from the myriad of camper vans and caravans, motorcycle troops, bicycle groups and sports car convoys present on the roads here, do remember that these are country roads used by locals each and every day. Not all who live up here are happy about the route’s success (increased tourist traffic on roads being a big reason), and so visitors must go out of their way to be respectful and sensible at all times. If stopping for a photo opportunity, ensure you’re not going to obstruct other drivers or take up an invaluable passing place.

Insider tip: There were many more petrol stations than we anticipated along the route, but don’t underestimate how many miles you may have to drive before you are able to fill up. We took the approach that as soon as we went below half a tank of diesel in Jock the Jeep, we would fill up at the next station – this served us pretty well.

One of my favourite programs Radio Scotland Out of doors are presently doing a piece on the North Coast 500 in an electric car and will value their experiences and I sure they will give a balanced view on their journey.  I have spoken to a few folks who live and work up North and there comments are below.

They make interesting reading?

From Visit Scotland

“There’s nothing quite like the freedom of the long open road. Never-ending back roads, wide meandering country tracks and beautiful bends through some of Scotland’s finest coastal scenery are just a few things you can expect along the North Coast 500 – Scotland’s answer to Route 66.

The route starts in the northern city of Inverness, weaves along the west coast to Applecross and then northwards towards the bustling towns of Torridon and Ullapool. From there, you’ll venture to some of the most northerly coastal points in Scotland, passing by Caithness and John o’ Groats before heading south again through Dingwall and finally back to Inverness.”

Sadly there is no guide to driving carefully on these roads? A few other website give some thoughts to this important part of the journey, the impact on the locals?

500 map

Comment from  a friend in Inchnadampth

“The NC500 is bringing droves of cars, camper vans, motorcycles, pedal cycles, rallies etc to the area, with many drivers having little idea how to conduct themselves on single track roads & causing some chaos, to say nothing of the frustration to locals trying to go about their daily happenings . One guy even rounded on a local, saying it was a one way system!!! ‘Since when?’ Asked the local!!Mark Stephen did the route in an electric car last week – I look forward to hearing his reports on Out of Doors over the next two weeks.

Hillary – Glad I knew it back in the late 60’s early 70’s but have been back and did our own version 2 years ago in camper van. Thought when I first saw it being designated that it would spoil it, but is that selfish? Remember similar discussion about Penine way (but not on social media) now foot fall so high they’ve had to build wooden walkways, hardly the tough navigation over the moorland bits.

David M – I was going to say it is not too dissimilar to other tourist hot spots – Lakes, Gower etc; Wonder if they have any strategies for handling the annual influx. However, if it has turned into a race track, that’s a problem of a different order of magnitude. Guess we will be leaving our gentle per-amble in the Bongo till a quieter season.

Eoghain – Kinlochewe – A lot of business are not making anything out of it. Food & Fuel purchased before they leave Inverness. The honey pot villages are benefiting economically but not the villages in between

George P – Totally true…big mob of Ferraris and Lambos at the Kingsmills Hotel tonight after having a pants filling drive through Glen Torridon

Kalie – Applecross – Don’t get me started, Heavy!
On Saturday I counted a rally of 19 cars and 14 motorbikes bikes in convoy on the Applecross coast road….25 miles of constant single track road. Chaos! I phoned the police since it’s illegal to have groups of over 10 cars travelling in convoy. On Sunday there was a German sports car rally RACING around the coast at 60-70mph in places. I’m surprised there wasn’t an accident. Lots of young lambs have been injured or killed on the road. We have been onto Highland Council for 18 months to put some signs on the coast road but ‘there is no money’. There is NOT ONE of the blue single track signs for 25 miles : ((
I have emailed NC500 several times asking them to indicate on their map WHERE the single track sections are, so that people can avoid them is they’re unable to reverse their vehicles or unsure about driving on them.
I also asked NC500 to provide information leaflets on how to drive single track to car hire / campervan and sports car hire companies…nothing done. NC500 are making money out of out route but putting nothing back…grrr

Steve – Those special quiet places we have been using for years in our vans and tents whilst on our wanders about the hills of the north and west are soon to be no more – hordes of people with their new “MoHo’s” and clutching their NC500 guide books are now going to be looking for somewhere to “wild camp” – they will find those special places – and then stick them on Facebook and so another 50,000 people will know instantly about the location of “secret quiet places” 🙁(and I didn’t make that number up)

NC 500 SOME CARS .g.paton photo



About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Enviroment, Friends, Local area and events to see, Views Political?, Weather, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Race Track or Tourist Magnet ? The North Coast 500. Any thoughts?

  1. The Applecross peninsular and Lochinver Loop should not be on the NC500 as the roads are not suitable for increased amounts of traffic never mind organised convoys of boy racers or Campervans. I lived there for many years, not sure if I’d like to now. Yesterday I narrowly missed a convoy of racing Ferraris on the wrong side of the road where I now live near John O’Groats. Sad to see it being turned into a race track.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bill Rose says:

    Can the area cope with the volume. Infrastructure needs to be in place to provide accomodation e.g. hotels. B and B and camp sites. Where do caravans RVs go if sites full. Park up in any free space. Cause problems resulting in these pull in areas being blocked off. Remember the bye laws in the national park were introduced to control the volume of visitors requiring them to camp in designated areas and parking areas. Unofficial parking spots blocked off. Will it be feast and famine. Overcrowded for a few summer months then in winter very few visitors to sustain the small businesses providing accommodation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. pondbug says:

    Most of these problems were very predictable. It’s not good to be elitist but it seems daft to promote something in a way that’s going to diminish the qualities that made it worth promoting in the first place. As usual there appears to have been little or no consultation with those most affected.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Toby says:

    There’s no debate to be had here it *has* had a positive affect on the economy with jobs being created and increased tourism spend in the area. Up 11% over the last couple of years if memory serves correctly. There’s definitely an issue in regards to supported infrastructure, arguably it’s worse in Skye at the moment, but I think (hope) we’ll see that change over the years. The North West is historically primarily a crofting and fishing economy with very little in terms of growth. That seems to be changing and the local communities have a chance here to tap into that.

    Liked by 1 person

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